Monday, 23 November 2015

Muddled Tenses Thanks to My Evil Sponge-Brain


I have this problem where I subconsciously mimic the tense of whatever book I'm reading when writing.

I first remember this happening when working on a very early rewrite of Soci of Metro. At the time I was battling my way through Scarlett Thomas's The End of Mr. Y, which is written in the first person, and in the present tense. While my writing remained in the third person, Emma would often point out parts of rewritten chapters that were in the present tense, and not the past tense as intended. It was weird, because it would only be half a sentence here, or a verb there, and I'd never lift the style or use of words directly from The End of Mr. Y. Which is good, because I didn't enjoy the style or the use of words of The End of Mr. Y.

I stopped reading The End of Mr. Y soon after.
It's not a problem I've had since, because I've refused to read any fiction that wasn't written in the third person and the past tense, just to be sure. But that's no fun; there's plenty of good books out there written in various different ways, and over the past year or so I've made a mental list of all the books and stories I've had to pass up on because of my self-imposed rule.

But once I'd finished the Second Second Draft of Soci of Metro, I dived right in.

I started with Iain Banks's The Steep Approach to Garbadale—a book written in a mix of the third and first person, and in the present tense. I'd read The Wasp Factory way back in university and remember enjoying it. A long time later I read Walking on Glass, and although I wasn't quite into the merging of the three tales told in that book, I certainly learnt from it. So I cracked open The Steep Approach to Garbadale, read a few hundred pages, and BOOM I'm writing in the present tense again.

This time it happened with the first draft of a new story I'd started after finishing the third draft of Red Therapy. I really liked working on Red Therapy again, and after discussing the genre of Soci of Metro with the few people who've read it, I decided to write another character-driven fantasy/ sci-fi/ slipstream/ urban fantasy/ whatever story set under Red Therapy's enraging red sun.

The story's called Red Trio, and Red Memories, and Little Blue Shoes, all at the same time, because I haven't decided on a title yet. And once I'd finished the awful and embarrassing first draft, and typed up all the misspelt words from all those scrappy pieces of paper, I realised that my tenses were muddled again.

I don't doubt that there's others with the same problem. It's quite normal for people to pick up on the quirks of the language that surrounds them. It doesn't take long to learn the slang of a new group of people, or the accents in different parts of the same country. I mean, I can't be the only one who unconsciously spoke Natsat while reading A Clockwork Orange.

So the moral of this story is that your brain is a sponge and it hates you. Goodnight.

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